Hot and Wet for Betty’s Berries
The Titan Arum, aka Amorphophallus titanum, is a botanical rockstar. Its flower is the largest in nature, reaching up to 10 feet high. It’s also one of the stinkiest. The inflorescence stinks so much, it attracts pollinators from miles away. The stench earned it the nickname, “corpse flower.”
So, of course, I’m going to try to grow one in my house.
When I was in Miami for the International Aroid Show a couple months ago, I met Kathy Upton, who is the Greenhouse Manager at University of Missouri, St. Louis, where three Titans bloomed earlier this year. You can see them bloom in the video above. Pollen was collected from the first and applied to the second (named Betty), which produced a ton of big, red berries. Kathy was kind enough to mail me some.
The planting process is much like planting the smaller Arum, except everything is supersized. While the Arum italicum berries were the size of a pea, the Titan berries are about the size of a quarter.
There were two seeds inside each berry. I squeezed them out, washed them off, and planted them in small pots in a peaty soil mix. The pots then went into sealed bags, under lights, and on top of a heating pad. Kathy’s advice was that the Titans like it hot and wet – she said Sumatra has two seasons: rainy, and really rainy).
I have to admit, I don’t know what I’m going to do if they actually grow. I’m not worried about the smell – it’s just the flowers, and only for a day or so. And they’re actually quite pretty while growing. But small they’re not. They can get up to 20 feet tall. And it’s not like I can just put it outside when it outgrows the house – the San Francisco climate would kill it instantly. I can mimic Indonesia’s hot, wet conditions in a sandwich bag, but I’m not going to terraform my house for the Titan’s comfort.
But I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it. It’ll be years before it gets to blooming size, and even then, a bloom is a rare event, sometimes only once a decade. For now, I’m incredibly excited just to try growing this botanical rockstar. Thanks, Kathy!
UPDATE: First Titan Spike!